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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

All Grown Up

Chianti il Ristoranti

208 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-0025. Serving dinner daily from 5:30. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: eclectic Italian

Entrée price range: $9 (pasta in tomato sauce) to $32 (16-oz. filet mignon)

Ambiance: artistic

 

By B.A. Nilsson

The new kid on the block is now almost 10, and 10-year-olds rarely remain cute. Since opening Chianti il Ristoranti a decade ago, owner David Zecchini has added two more Saratoga Springs restaurants, one of which, Il Forno Toscano, perseveres. Chianti, meanwhile, peers from its nicely landscaped corner at the south end of the village, murmuring a reminder that it’s still offering a style of Italian cookery that was trendsetting for the area when it first appeared and remains no less appealing.

There’s the food, of course, upon which we’ll dwell. But beyond that, and enhancing the dining experience, is the rambunctious charm of the place. Long gone are any traces of its former incarnation, which was as far from fine dining as it’s possible to get. What begins as a series of outdoor sculptures continues inside the restaurant as an almost kinetic decor, with hanging sculptures, shelves of glassware, exotic lighting, and a formal but comfortable array of tables and chairs.

Zecchini designed and helped build it this way, and it’s just intrusive enough to remind you that you’re dining in no ordinary place. So settle in, order a glass of prosecco, and have a look at the menu. Perhaps you’ll start with some raw beef.

They bill it as “Chianti’s Famous Carpaccio,” and present it three different ways ($13-$14). It’s filet mignon sliced so thin you can see through it, arrayed with a variety of complementary items. There’s also a tuna carpaccio (tonno, $14). If, like me, you’re indecisive, order the trittico ($23), and get an entrée-sized platter of the three beef presentations.

One of which (Cipriani) pairs it with grana padano, a classic Italian parmigiana-like cheese, adding capers and olive oil. The meat is so pliable it’s almost like an aspic, so I availed myself of my favorite dining tool—my fingers—to bunch it against some of that cheese en route to the palate. Carciofi adds goat cheese and artichoke hearts; gorgonzola complemented the Chianti version. It’s not only a bouquet of fantastic flavors but also a handsome-looking serving, arriving on a large silver salver.

Does it bother you to have a small amount of fuss at tableside as the courses arrive? Not me: At least, not when it’s clearly in celebration of good food. And so the mozzarella di bufala ($16) arrived with a flourish, a simple combo of tomatoes and cheese, but the tomatoes glowed red and the cheese was made with buffalo milk, with a resultant extra graininess and more pungent flavor than its bovine cousin.

Other appetizers include bruschetta (of course), calamari, shrimp with cannellini beans, and other bean, vegetable and/or seafood dishes ($7 to $16), many of which are combined on the antipasto platter for two ($20).

Salads include creative uses of cheese and fruit, including the one we sampled: valtellina ($11), which presents air-dried beef (bresaolo) alongside gorgonzola and candied apple slices, a strategy not unlike the carpaccio and just as successful.

Chef Fabrizio Bazzani, a native of Verona, is committed to keeping the menu interesting and the standards high. He and his crew work in a presentation kitchen which I never remember to sit near—but that’s because you can sit on the outdoor patio or, as we did recently, in a room near the front decorated with copper and glass.

Bazzani’s entrées are listed in the classic style, with pasta, risotto and meat dishes listed separately. If you’re going to dine correctly, which is to say ravenously, you would follow your starter with a pasta or rice dish, and add an entrée on top of that.

This we did not do. It’s an evening-long enterprise, in my experience, that also calls for more wine than I thought prudent to consume.

But we sampled one of each. The pasta dish was a special: rabbit tossed with fettuccine ($17) in a buttery sauce that included spicy red peppercorns. What an undervalued meat! It has the sweetness that chicken brings to a pasta dish, but with a heartier foundation—which was why my daughter leaped at the chance to order it.

Risotto scoglio ($20) is a creamy stew of thirsty arborio kernels, swollen into flavorful tenderness, finished with crabmeat and shrimp and a touch of tomato. Unlike its Big Night counterpart, the meat was easy to find and delicious.

We rounded it out with another special, osso buco ($27), made my favorite way: with a big shank of lamb, braised to a pliant finish that absorbed a wealth of flavors en route and topped with a gremolata version that give it a citrusy-garlic tang.

Like the room, like the restaurant, each plate looked like a work of art and, just as colors and textures combine to make the surroundings more appealing, so did the flavors and textures of the food.

Sure, you’ll still hear Zecchini singing like a madman as he makes his way through the dining rooms, accosting the customers with his oddball wit—but that’s part of the personality of the restaurant. It’s immensely reassuring to see that the standards set nearly a decade ago still prevail in this hotly competitive town.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

As the summer’s sticky heat inspires dreams of air conditioning or the beach, a toothsome, seasonally appropriate alternative will be offered next Thursday (Aug. 9), at New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties: a backyard hoedown! Chef Ric Orlando and his crew will cook up a Tennessee barbecue with smoked pork, grilled trout, white bean chili, corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, salads, sweets and more. Beer, wine, root beer, lemonade, and mint juleps also are included, for $35 per person (plus tax and tip). Dinner runs from 6 to 9, and includes a set of live music. The restaurant is at 1411 Route 212, and you can reserve seats or get more info at (845) 246-0900. Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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